New York City taxi drivers and assemblymembers are demanding justice after a taxi passenger brutally assaulted a driver, Key Chun Kim, in the early morning of New Year’s Day during an argument over the fare.
Kim, 53, is in a coma.
But his alleged assailant, Andrew McElroy, 28, is free on $10,000 bail.
Kim’s family, his fellow taxi drivers and three local assemblymembers – Ron Kim, Ed Braunstein and Walter Mosley – gathered for a prayer vigil in front of Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, where Kim was receiving treatment, on Thursday afternoon. They demanded stronger prosecution for McElroy, and anyone who assaults a taxi driver.
When the driver’s sister, Kristin Kim, heard McElroy was set free on bail and not charged with a felony, she was shocked.
“It was nonsense to me for anybody to beat anybody into a coma,” Kim said. “I thought the case was not treated fairly, and without feeling.”
Kim, Braunstein and Mosley spoke about the Taxi Driver Protection Act – which would require assaults against drivers to be prosecuted as felonies and for signs to be posted in all taxis warning against such violence. Kim said legislation about the in-taxi signs will be introduced next week, and he is optimistic that the other piece of the law will gain traction quickly.
“We are here because we are hopeful for the DA to bring the case before the grand jury,” Braunstein said. “Any kind of assault on a taxi driver should be considered a felony.”
A spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said assaults on transit workers, EMT workers and school safety workers are automatically prosecuted as felonies. The Assault on Transit Workers Initiative, in place since 2008, covers bus and subway operator assaults. But there are no such penal laws designated for assaults on taxi drivers, he said.
Assaults against taxi drivers are treated like assaults against any civilian, without any special regulations, he said. Although McElroy was charged with misdemeanors and felonies, according to Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, he can only be prosecuted with a felony through a grand jury indictment. But no such grand jury indictment has or is scheduled to occur.
Ibrahim Bah, who has been a taxi driver for nine years, was attacked by a group of passengers last month when he refused to allow six passengers in his car, because the riding limit is only four. He spoke out about the need for the Taxi Driver Protection Act.
“Many of us choose to drive taxis,” he said. “Why can’t I do my job? At least we deserve some protection.”